Simon & Jackie’s 3 month Road Trip across the USA
  • Day87

    Day 86 - I Think We Got Away With Murder

    July 17, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Woke up to the news that the electric sockets at home weren’t working. I did my packing, whilst Jackie stressed about it & was arranging for electricians to attend from all over the county!

    At 10.50am, we were all packed & in the car for our final journey. We tapped in the destination as JFK International Airport on my phone & had a heart attack, the route would take 9 hours 58 minutes. We tried the same thing on Jackie’s phone & it came up with the same result. Shit, we had totally miscalculated how long it would take to get to the airport, it was unlikely that we would make it in time for our flight, let alone dropping the car off at Enterprise & all that drama first.

    A couple of minutes later, we had solved the riddle of our extra long journey & it was because both our phones were set to avoid Tolls. When we resolved this, the journey was just 3 hours 8 minutes. Plenty of time!

    We cruised through The Wildwoods & came to the realisation that the southern end where we had stayed was the classier end. The middle of The Wildwoods was more like Blackpool!

    We then joined the Garden State Parkway North, which was a Toll Road. I lost count, but every 20 or 30 minutes, we were handing over either $1.50 or $0.75 cash, which we hadn’t anticipated. Jackie holding the purse strings was getting nervous that we would run out of cash before we got to New York. We stopped for fuel & for the 1st time on our trip, we discovered that in New Jersey it is the law that only a petrol pump assistant can fill your car with fuel.

    On the outskirts of New York, we joined Interstate 95, then Interstate 278 & the traffic got more & more busy & the driving more & more manic. We didn’t need any more dents on Doodle. On these roads we still had more tolls, somewhere just outside New York we paid $1.60 at one toll, then less than half a mile later we paid $15 at a toll, yes we couldn’t believe it either, which literally wiped us out of cash.

    Our route took us over Goethals Bridge, thus taking us into our final State, New York State. We crossed Verrazano - Narrows Bridge & picked up Belt Parkway West into the Borough of Brooklyn. It was chaotic, with drivers deliberately trying to hit us or so it felt. Every car around us seemed to be covered in dents.

    After passing Coney Island, we pulled up at a McDonald’s on Avenue U, just north of Brighton Beach to take refuge & stock. Firstly it was the cleanest McDonald’s we have ever been in. We ordered our meal & rehearsed our story for when we got to Enterprise Car Rental.

    We agreed on a two part story. We would admit from the outset that we had a ‘tiny’ bit of hail damage on our bonnet & hope that our ‘honesty’ would possibly distract them from all the other damage. If, but more likely when, they saw the bumper damage, we would say that it occurred when we were trying to seek shelter from the hailstorm to prevent further damage. Hopefully it would mean that all that damage could be claimed as one continuous incident on our insurance. We would then have to just pay for the criminal damage to the top of the bumper. Neither of us were looking forward to the car rental return procedure & could now think of nothing else.

    Time was starting to push on so we headed towards JFK International Airport, passing Rockaway Beach & entering into the Borough of Queens. We drove past JFK to a Walmart in Valley Stream, for some snacks & more flip flops. They didn’t have any!

    In the car park, we had one final dress rehearsal of our story for Enterprise, then fuelled up for a final time. With trepidation, we drove to Enterprise, making sure we had our best friendly game faces on. We drove into the Enterprise car park & an employee guided us where to park.

    It was 5.00pm as we climbed out of Doodle, now in character with our butter wouldn’t melt smiles. The cheery employee immediately started to look at the front of the car, then started to circle it with a maybe less than critical eye, whilst we dragged our rucksacks out & engaged him in banal conversation. He asked me for the keys & I suddenly got the distinct impression that he had not noticed any damage. As he was keying information in to his tablet in the drivers seat, I desperately tried to get Jackie’s attention to not say anything about the damage.

    Our Enterprise man, then got out of the car, confirmed we were expecting the fee for 33 days car hire to be, around $1300, then gave us a printed receipt & thanked us. No, thank you. We had driven Doodle a total of 6,712 miles in those 33 days.

    We gathered up our belongings as quickly as we could, ran & jumped on their courtesy bus. WoW, we could not believe it & did everything we could to stop ourselves jumping for joy, particularly on their courtesy bus!

    In Terminal 1, we treated ourselves to a couple of celebratory beers, which turned out to be the ‘World’s Most Expensive’ beers, $47 for 4 beers, outrageous. At 7.00pm we checked in for the flight home with Norwegian Air, then went through security.

    This was the end to a long, tiring, exhilarating, fascinating, wonderful etc etc trip. I have just totted it up & we have driven exactly 15,089 miles on this trip.

    Songs of the Day - Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel

    Bonus Songs of the Day :-

    Getting Away With Murder by Papa Roach
    Wild Wood by Paul Weller
    Coney Island Baby by Lou Reed
    Rockaway Beach by The Ramones
    English Rose by The Jam
    Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
    Welcome Home by Peters & Lee

    That’s All Folks!
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  • Day85

    Day 85 - The Penultimate Day

    July 15, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    After getting up, did some tidying up on my Roadtrippers App, which has plotted our journey back & forth across the United States of America. It is very easy to quickly forget all the places you have visited & the things that you have done. When it is plotted out on a map we have been everywhere.....nearly.

    Our travels lend themself perfectly to the Song of the Day (Please listen to it, it is a great great song).

    After lots of reminiscing of our adventures on this trip, we hit the beach for a final time. We found our usual spot & didn’t really move, other than to have the occasional wee in the sea. The dolphins very kindly passed by twice, but too far off shore to photo.

    Jackie & I did discuss what we are looking forward to when we get home. Jackie pretty much everything, me - Bovril, a decent cup of tea & our forthcoming trip to Ireland.

    I could carry on, if the immigration laws allow us, but Jackie will be particularly glad not to be stuck in a car most days & live out of a rucksack that needs to be repacked virtually every day. As I said to Jackie this trip was not supposed to be a holiday, it was a road trip, adventure, cultural experience, whatever you want to call it, but definitely not a holiday!

    I have promised that when we go on our planned world travels, we will have a lot more rest days & we won’t drive everywhere!

    Whilst reflecting on our trip, I have to say that on the whole the Americans have been lovely towards us, they can’t get enough of that British accent, particularly in the less touristy destinations. The younger generation of Americans are certainly polite, they appear to much more respect the older generation & daily they called me “Sir”. This might sound a bit rich, but there isn’t a drinking culture in America, so we didn’t witness loutish behaviour. Neither was there any visible graffiti & rarely any litter, which I think is down to their strong sense of community spirit & national pride.

    We have felt safe pretty much everywhere, even El Paso, which I slated at the time. I certainly never felt that someone was looking for the opportunity to mug or car-jack us, even their beggars were submissive.

    The only guns we saw were on the belts of law enforcement officers. We didn’t meet anybody who overtly was a fan of Trump. Quite a few people we met were keen to slag him off! Maybe that’s what they thought we wanted to hear.

    America is great for a road trip, because petrol is cheap, but still varies vastly from State to State. The cheapest we found it was in Texas at $2.09 a gallon & the most expensive was in California at $4.89. Still ridiculously cheap compared to the UK.

    On the downside, food wise, everything is still beige. Vegetables rarely feature on a restaurant menu & salads are smothered in a sauce. The portions are way to big, resulting in Jackie & I regularly sharing meals. And I don’t share!

    The other downers are the current Pound Sterling v US Dollar exchange rate is appalling. There are lots of hidden taxes, the tipping system is getting out of control (pay your waitresses more) so they don’t expect a minimum tip of 15% & the roads are dreadful, especially if you are driving a car with a low front bumper, like a VW Beetle!

    The other thing that really bugs me when travelling around America is that literally everything is ‘Historic’ & pretty much everything else is ‘World Famous’ or the ‘World’s Biggest’ etc etc.

    Rant over, we left the beach at 5.30pm, emptied the remainder of our stuff out of the boot of Doodle & commenced our packing. Well I would have done, but Jackie needs the laptop which has to be packed 1st in my rucksack. Instead, I sorted out my souvenir tickets & brochures etc then sat down with my blog.

    Meanwhile, Jackie packed, then went down to clean the car! We still have the drama of returning the car to Enterprise & deciding our best plan for damage limitation.

    After showering & sitting on the balcony with a beer, we have tentatively come up with our Top 10 places we have visited on this trip :-

    The Rodeo
    Yosemite NP
    Dollywood
    Memphis
    Nashville
    New Orleans
    Graceland
    Tucson Air & Space Museum
    Arches NP
    Tombstone

    The list could easily continue for ages......

    Dinner was back at the Crest Tavern & after everything I said before we went out, we were sat at the bar & a couple were having a heated discussion with the lone woman sat next to me, who was praising the economy under a Trump government. When the woman left the couple were furious about her views.

    Jackie & I shared Nachos with ground beef. Not as good as Jackie’s, too much cheese, but it was a satisfactory last meal. Washed down with our usual, a pint of Yuengling. Nice!

    Back at the hotel we had a final drink on the balcony & called it a night.

    Song of the Day - I’ve Been Everywhere by Johnny Cash.
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  • Day84

    Day 84 - The Perfect Day........Almost!

    July 14, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 28 °C

    Woke up around 7.30am & switched on Radio 5 Live On my iPad for the cricket that hadn’t long started. I listened to most of the New Zealand innings in bed & then got up for breakfast for the last couple of overs.

    During the interval, we walked down to the beach & selected our spot. We had just got ourselves settled in our Walmart camping chairs with Radio 5 Live now commentating from my phone, when the England innings commenced. It seemed a fairly straightforward total to chase down, but it sounded like Roy should have been out 1st ball. It was going to end up being a nail biting morning!

    The match progressed steadily with it being an even contest. With 10 overs to go, I was feeling extremely confident, surely Stokes & Buttler could bring it home. Jackie returned from our room with a couple of celebratory beers and I listened in horror as we lost a procession of wickets. A pod of passing dolphins following a pleasure boat couldn’t drag me from my chair.

    As we all know, the match was drawn following a fluke by Stokes & went into a Super Over. During the Super Over the dolphins had chased a large shoal of fish towards the beach & amongst the swimmers including Jackie. I had no choice but to investigate, so I went wading into the ocean with my phone held to my ear. Unfortunately the dolphins, moved on just before I got to them.

    Sussex County Cricket player Jofra Archer did the business with the ball, limiting New Zealand to just 15 runs, thus tying the Super Over & England winning on boundaries scored. It couldn’t have been a better day, sitting on a beach listening to England win the Cricket World Cup!

    Well, yes it could, I could have been at Lords watching it in person or I could have been watching on a big screen television, but all in all in the circumstances it was the perfect day!

    To celebrate the Historic Victory, Jackie & I walked tall along the beach to the migratory bird refuge & back again. No-one congratulated us on our World Cup win. Rude Yanks!

    We returned to our hotel, popped out to the off-licence for some celebratory refreshment, then sat on our deserted balcony to bask in our victory. Later we returned to the Crest Tavern for a beer, Yeunglang, which is the oldest brewed beer in America. I had a blackened chicken Caesar salad & Jackie had a crab cake burger.

    As I write, we are back on our balcony, Jackie is on white wine & I’m drinking Michelob Ultra (Superior Light Beer). Together we are reflecting on our unforgettable trip.

    Song of the Day - Perfect Day by Lou Reed.
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  • Day83

    Day 83 - Jersey Shore

    July 13, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    This is going to be short & boring!

    Got up, dressed & drove to the local supermarket to pick up some breakfast provisions,

    We came back & used our kitchenette to make freshly brewed coffee, English muffins & bagels. I also discovered that I can get Channel 4 on the iPad, so I downloaded & watched the superb Eng v Aus cricket semifinal.

    We then went to the beach with our Walmart camping chairs & beach towels. For the next 6 to 7 hours we observed American beach life on the Jersey Shore.

    There isn’t a great deal to say, the beach was big & wide, like a lot of the beachgoers. The beach was spotlessly clean & smoking was banned. Instead of sun beds, Americans favour the low reclining chair & even at the beach, they still like to talk loudly.

    There were manned Life Guard towers every 50 yards & they over enthusiastically peeped their whistles every time anyone went out in to the sea further than about 20 yards.

    It is the Atlantic Ocean, so the water was cold, but actually refreshing & there reasonable sized waves, particularly when the tide was coming in.

    I walked south down the beach, but after about half a mile, the hotels ended & were replaced by sand dunes. The beach was then roped off & I could go no further. It was closed to migratory birds only, giving them an undisturbed place to rest before continuing their journey. It was pretty much what we needed!

    At 5.30pm, the Life Guards started peeping their whistles & waving their arms for everyone to get out of the water. My initial thoughts were “Oh good, a shark had been spotted”. Outrageously, it turned out that they were going home & they wanted everyone out. Why? Nanny State springs to mind!

    As it happens, no longer than 10 minutes after they had gone, people started drifting back into the sea. We called it a day shortly after a woman told Jackie she was burnt or red & I was dark. Jackie will say it was the other way round!

    That evening we returned to the Crest Tavern, where shared a cheeseburger & a chicken salad, followed by an early night.

    I didn’t even take a photo all day!

    Song of the Day - Beach by Something Happens.
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  • Day83

    Day 82 - "Where are we?" "New JoiZee"

    July 13, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    Having shared a single curry last night, this morning I was ready to abuse the breakfast buffet. It didn’t let us down, it was delicious, possibly the best yet, English Muffins, cereal, fruit & decent coffee.

    Whilst we were giving it our best shot, three lads turned up to join us (on another table). I thought I saw them checking in the night before with musical instruments. Two wore scruffy rock t-shirts & the third had long blond flowing hair & was wearing a black velvet shirt & black skinny jeans. It didn’t take much to work out who was the lead singer.

    If confirmation was needed the receptionist, approached them & asked the necessary questions. It turned out it was Kyle Daniel & his band from Nashville, who were playing a couple of gigs in Annapolis. The other two were his drummer & bass player. Kyle has a few good songs to his name, check them out on Spotify or YouTube.

    Having consumed as much as we could, we returned to our room to decide what we were going to do & more importantly, where we were going to stay for the next four nights. It wasn’t easy, because prices were exorbitant on the East Coast of America at the weekend.

    After looking at hundreds of locations & permutations, we decided on going to Cape May in New Jersey. The plan was to find somewhere there, stay four days on the beach & then drive to JFK Airport on our final day.

    Off we set, with Kyle Daniel on the stereo. We headed north crossing the Severn River Bridge, then very shortly we were on the understated ‘William Preston Lane Jr Memorial Bridge’, which crossed Chesapeake Bay. The SatNav was programmed to head north via Middle Town in Delaware, but it dropped out & when Jackie re-set it, it took us in the opposite direction to a ferry port called Lewis. Granted it was the ‘shortest’ route, but the ferry only sailed a couple of times a day, we hadn’t got a reservation & I’m not sure the front bumper of Doodle could cope with boarding a ferry.

    Unfortunately we didn’t realise this re-routing until we were deep into corn 🌽 fields in the countryside of the border lands of Maryland & Delaware. When we did realise, with a few choice expletives, we drove through the arse end of nowhere to get back on to our intended route.

    After passing through the sleepy Maryland towns of Denton, Greensboro, Henderson & the State Border Town of Marydel (Original name!) we arrived in Delaware. Our new route took us through Dover, Smyrna, Middletown (where we joined our intended route) then crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New JoiZee. We followed the 55 south through Vineland (Jackie was hoping it was full of wine) to Cape May.

    We drove around Cape May & it was delightful, an upmarket Worthing or Eastbourne, but with a sandy beach. Unfortunately it was out of our price range! By the way, it was our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. We had ‘Historically’ driven from the West Coast to the East Coast of the USA & a lot in between!

    After a bit of research on Booking.com & other such websites, we identified a possible suitable motel just up the Atlantic Coast in Wildwood Crest. Half an hour later, we pulled up outside & it seemed fine, next to the beach & WOW it had gone down $50 to stay for the next 4 nights. Result!

    Alas, Jackie wanted to research all the other accommodation in the area, so I drove around in circles, while Jackie established that everywhere else was too expensive. We popped to a liquor store for some beers & eventually agreed that the original motel, Beau Rivage Beach Resort was our best option . We pulled up outside the Beau Rivage Beach Resort only to discover that the room we were looking at was unavailable & there was just one room now available, with a sea view for an eye-watering extra $125 per night. I was furious, apparently it wasn’t Jackie’s fault.

    Jackie, possibly feeling slightly guilty, went into the reception only to be told what we already knew. We both sat in the car tapping furiously on our phones waiting for some divine inspiration, when suddenly our prayers were answered. The room we wanted was back on the market at the discounted price. I immediately booked it & I went into reception to get our room keys.

    It was very confusing, but I think that the person who had booked our room had had some problem with payment. I paid up & we were in. Yippee!

    It sounds like we had just secured bargain of the century, no, we are in the equivalent of Torremolinos in Spain or Faliraki in Greece. There are lots of chavs, but we will hopefully experience a true American summer holiday. By the way, literally everyone smokes & permanently has a fag in their mouth except me (& occasionally Jackie!). We have 3 generations of Mexicans in the room next to us! I am saying hello to absolutely everyone to avoid upsetting anyone!!

    We ventured on to the beach, it’s wide & will enjoy our Walmart camping chairs. We then sniffed out the only decent eatery within walking distance, Fitzpatrick’s Crest Tavern. It was a proper American bar, that served food. We had a pint & an appetiser each. I had boneless chicken dippers & Jackie had a massive bowl of mussels. It was perfect & we have already planned to go back there every night.

    Walking home we said hello to a lady out walking her dog, who informed us that at 10.00pm, there would be a Fireworks display at the other end of the beach. It wasn’t Newick, but it made for a nice end to the evening.

    Song of the Day - Keep on Rollin’ by Kyle Daniel.
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  • Day81

    Day 81 - We had a Nautical Nightmare!

    July 11, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 23 °C

    Jackie got me up at the crack of dawn, 9.30am, to get up & out for a planned boat trip. We checked out of the hotel, leaving Doodle in their car park, then headed back to the harbour.

    On the way down we were desperately looking for somewhere to grab something to eat. We settled on an 8” BLT French stick that we shared.

    We arrived at the City Dock at 10.40am & purchased our tickets for a 40 minute Annapolis Harbour & United States Naval Academy boat trip. 5 minutes later we boarded the ‘Harbour Queen’ & took a seat on the top deck.

    At 11.00am sharp, we set sail & immediately skirted around the banks of the USNA complex. There was an onboard commentary providing us with information about the buildings we were looking at. We passed the impressive sports facilities & Farragut Field, before turning up the Severn River. We passed Santee Basin, where there was dingy training in progress, then Dewey Field. When we reached Dorsey Creek we looked across at the Cemetery, where John McCain was laid to rest on 2nd September 2018.

    We then turned & crossed to the other side of the Severn River to admire, or be resentful of, the huge houses & their jetties, overlooking the bay. We then passed about a dozen small training Frigates in dock. We continued out to the Chesapeake Bay, then headed back to dock, passing a pair of nesting Ospreys & their chicks on top of a ‘crossing day beacon’.

    At the conclusion of our boat trip we took a stroll around Historic Annapolis, with it’s ‘oldy worldy’ buildings, then stopped for an alfresco lunch at O’Brien’s Oyster Bar & Grill. Jackie had grilled Chesapeake Shrimps & I had loaded potato skins, plus a beer & gallons of water.

    After a pleasant lunch, we headed for the United States Naval Academy Visitor Center & Museum. We arrived at the security desk & produced our UK driving licences as our identification. The ‘jobsworth’ Military guy, informed us our licences were insufficient & we needed our passports. What a nightmare!

    Jackie went back down to the harbour to rest her weary legs, whilst I marched back to our hotel & Doodle to get our passports. 40 minutes later, I located Jackie & we made a 2nd attempt to gain entry to the USNA. I was saturated in sweat, but they still allowed us entry.

    The Visitor Center contained various exhibits & examples of naval uniform down the last couple of centuries. There was a stuffed ‘Bill the Goat’, the mascot of the US Navy, then we went into the theatre for a 15 minute movie detailing the life of a new recruit at the USNA.

    The USNA was established in 1845 at it’s current location, a 338 acre campus, which was formerly Fort Severn. Approximately 1.200 “plebes” (an abbreviation of the Ancient Roman word plebeian) enter the Academy each summer for the rigorous Plebe Summer. About 1,000 midshipmen graduate.

    We then walked out into the grounds where students/trainees in varying uniforms were running around all over the place. We stumbled into Dahlgren Hall, a vast hall where 2 different troops were rigorously being put through their parade drills. It didn’t seem right that we were about to walk past them, but nothing said that we couldn’t. We compromised by scaling stairs to a walkway above them.
    Dahlgren Hall was stunning & had a ship suspended at one end of the Hall & model of a Wright B-1 Flyer at the other.

    We continued on to Main Chapel with it’s gold steeple & copper dome, unfortunately the Chapel was covered in scaffolding for renovation work. The interior was ornate & blue, with Tiffany designed stained glass windows. Under the Chapel was the crypt of John Paul Jones, who we now know to be one of the greatest Revolutionary War Naval heroes.

    Next was the USNA Museum in Preble Hall. As we walked in, we were accosted by an over enthusiastic Museum Volunteer who insisted on telling us everything that we were going to see in the Museum. We might as well have turned round & walked out as we knew it all, but we did enter & on the 1st floor we saw numerous dockyard ship models & model ships made out of animal bones by French Prisoners of War. The highlight was an incredibly detailed model of the HMS Victory.

    On the ground floor were exhibits throughout the ages, including John Paul Jones’ presentation sword from the Revolutionary War, Oliver Hazard Perry’s ‘Don’t Give Up The Ship’ flag from the 1812 War, the USS Hartford ship wheel from the Civil War & the surrender table used on USS Missouri from WWII.

    It was nearly 5.00pm when we left the USNA & we still hadn’t sorted out a hotel for the evening. We had been playing cat & mouse with Booking.com to stay another night at the Hotel Annapolis. We walked back to our car with the sky blackening & just made it before the heavens opened. The hotel rates still hadn’t gone down sufficiently for us, so we decided to stay at a substantially cheaper motel, Country & Inn Suites, just a couple of miles up the road.

    That evening we had a superb curry at the Basmati Indian Restaurant. Incredibly we shared a curry with the usual accompaniments & were both full after!!

    Song of the Day - In The Navy by Village People.
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  • Day81

    Day 80 - A Grave Day in Arlington

    July 11, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Couldn’t be bothered with breakfast (or we just over slept) & checked out about 10.00am. We drove to Royal Auto Works & got one of the staff to look at the hail damage to our car. He put us in touch with their hailstones expert who only visits them once a week, on a Tuesday!

    I rang their expert, Jonathan who is based in Winchester, who told me he could only fit us in on Saturday morning. He wasn’t prepared to estimate how much it would cost.

    We then drove to the Coin Laundrette & Jackie commenced the unenviable task of getting all our dirty clothes washed & dried. I contacted a couple of local VW Dealerships to see if they had our red paint, Y3D, in stock. They didn’t.

    Whilst Jackie was still laundering, I went to the Blue Ridge Barbers for another haircut. I came out with a flat-top, costing just $9.99. Bargain, but I was itchy all day.

    It was gone midday when Jackie finished the laundry. We re-packed our rucksacks, then stopped at Spelunker’s for an award winning burger. It was ok, certainly good quality ingredients, but a bit too juicy for me.

    Having decided that fixing the damage to the car is too problematic, we followed Bingo’s advice & headed to Annapolis in Maryland. En-route we stopped at Arlington National Cemetery, just to the west of Washington DC.

    We accidentally arrived at the staff entrance & got re-routed. This took us past the Pentagon & round to the visitors centre for Arlington National Cemetery. Having parked up, we decided not to take the official trolley bus tour, but we would walk it.

    Without a map we followed the other visitors through the row upon row of military graves. We arrived at one of the main ‘attractions’, the grave of John F. Kennedy & Jackie Onassis. It was a simple Monument, just 2 black headstones & an ‘eternal flame’. Beside them sat other graves of the Kennedy clan, including Robert F. Kennedy & Edward “Ted” Kennedy.

    We found a large statue of a man on a horse, which turned out to be British Diplomat & Field Marshall Sir John Dill, who was the first non-American to be buried in the Cemetery.

    We progressed up the hill to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which faces out over Washington DC. One poor soldier in full uniform in the 98 degree heat, marched back & forth in front of it. He actually meticulously marches 21 steps down a black mat, turns & pauses for 21 seconds before marching back 21 steps & repeats.

    The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, which has hosted State Funerals, plus Memorial Day & Veterans Day ceremonies. The amphitheater is made of marble & seats about 5,000 people. At the front of the amphitheater is a stage upon which is the Klismos Chair. The Klismos Chair faces the audience & is intended to be a reminder of the missing heroes honoured by the amphitheater. Jackie sat in it!

    We had been at Arlington National Cemetery for around 2 hours & it was baking hot, so we decided to leave & get past Washington DC before rush hour. Unfortunately this meant we missed Memorials for the victims of USS Maine, Space Shuttle Challenger & Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

    Back at the car, we typed in Annapolis & to my surprise it took us into Washington DC, across Arlington Memorial Bridge, then Independence Avenue, hence passing & getting good views of Washington Monument & the Jefferson Memorial. We picked up Interstate 395, then 695, which gave us a fleeting glimpse of United States Capitol.

    We continued north, now in the State of Maryland & finally reached Highway 50, which took us towards the naval town of Annapolis. After driving to the harbour, we decided that we would stay. Annapolis reminds us of a mix of Whitby, Portsmouth & maybe a little bit of Guildford.

    We scoured Booking.com & a real bargain popped up, still expensive, but a bargain nevertheless. We booked ourselves a room in the perfectly located Hotel Annapolis & checked in.

    Our room had a nautical theme, but was pure luxury. Well it was compared to Super 8 Motels on Highways! We made the most of the lovely toiletries & huge fluffy towels. We got out about 6.00pm & enjoyed the street life. Just down from our hotel was a street party in West Street. All the pubs & restaurants had put out tables & chairs & a band was playing.

    We continued to the harbour & Jackie managed to trip ripping off the skin on the palm of her hand. To make her feel better she decided that we needed to take a boat trip the following morning. We then secured a table on the verandah of a pub & watched the world go by with a couple of beers. Jackie, still making the most of injury, ordered half a dozen oysters to take the pain away!

    A couple of hours later, I was now starving & we went in search of some chicken wings. We couldn’t find any anywhere, but before we knew it we were back at the street party. Most of the tables were still taken, but we managed to get ourselves one, then looked at the limited menu & decided nothing took our fancy. We settled for a beer & listened to the band.

    At the end of the night, we had a couple of carrot sticks, hummus & some peanuts back in our room.

    Song of the Day - Eternal Flame by The Bangles.
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  • Day79

    Day 79 - Different, But Same, Same

    July 9, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    We managed to get up in time for breakfast, but then had to share the breakfast room with lumpy women with fat kids & plain oddballs. It’s good for the diet, because I could only stomach a couple of bowls of cereal & Jackie had even less.

    We were soon back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we had left it & continued our progression north for the remaining 121 miles of the BRP to what I thought would be Royal Front, our intended stop for the day.

    The road was virtually devoid of vehicles, but this just encouraged the wildlife to congregate on the road. There were the usual deer, lots of birds of all sizes & suicidal black butterflies, that kept insisting on smashing into our bonnet. Well, everything else had!

    We passed Bearwallow Gap, Peaks of Otter & then stopped at the attractive Otter Lake. Upon getting out to take a photo, I noticed a sign advertising a 0.6 mile trail hike loop around the lake, that it suggested would take 45 minutes to complete. It seemed the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs & get some much needed exercise .

    The trail initially required us to negotiate some rather slippery looking stepping stones across a creek. Successfully completed, we then had to scale a muddy path taking us high above Otter Lake. All of a sudden it felt very remote & isolated & didn’t seem like such a good idea. What if we saw a bear now? How would we react?

    Luckily a bear didn’t materialise, but as I lead the way, I got covered in cobwebs & their spiders, all over my arms, face & hair. What didn’t get to stick to me, got Jackie instead. It didn’t make for a pleasant walk. As we neared the end, we came upon a group of young park rangers building a bridge over the creek. This was the only way to cross the creek without getting wet feet, so they luckily allowed us to walk across the narrow middle plank to the other side.

    Returning to the car, we put our foot down, passing Humpback Rocks, then arriving at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Having driven every inch of the 469 miles of the scenic Parkway at a driving Miss Daisy pace, we were looking forward to a short day to sort out some domestic chores in Front Royal.

    To my surprise, as we exited BRP we arrived in Rockfish Gap. We were then immediately confronted with Shenandoah National Park. We drove to the entrance & instead of paying the $30 entrance fee, I waved my magic Parks Pass. Jackie wasn’t so impressed when she saw the sign telling us that Front Royal was 105 miles away following the Skyline Drive with it’s 35mph speed limit.

    We had no choice & we settled in for a 3 hour drive. It was very pleasant, but the scenery was no different than that on BRP. We passed through Turk Gap, Jones Run, Big Meadows, past Dark Hollow Falls, Skyland, Gooney Run Overlook & eventually arriving at Dickey Ridge, the other end of the Skyline Drive. We had only stopped twice to look out & take a photo!

    We dropped down into Front Royal, which was small but very quaint. We were easily persuaded to stay so we booked another Super 8 motel on Booking.com, then went for a drive round. We stopped at a car mechanics, who advised us where to go to hopefully get our hailstone damage looked at. We would call on them in the morning.

    After checking in at the motel, we went across the road to Spelunker’s. Apparently they had just been voted best burger in Virginia, but I was after their famous Frozen Custard. We shared a double scoop & like the Texan couple we met in St George said, ‘It is just creamy ice-cream, but overrated’.

    The receptionist recommended the local Italian, but I was now not that hungry. We walked to the supermarket to get some wine & I ended up accidentally buying a massive portion of Chinese, whilst Jackie had hummus & carrots. Back at the motel, I ate about a third of my Chinese before I was stuffed!

    The remainder of the evening was taken up trying to plan/decide where to stay for the final week of our trip.

    Song of the Day - Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.
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  • Day78

    Day 78 - Blue Ridge Parkway

    July 8, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    I had the best sleep on our trip so far, apparently Jackie didn’t. We also had one of our better breakfasts & stole butters, jams & bananas for our lunch/ tea.

    Our 1st stop of the day was the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville. The architect was the renowned architect, Raphael Guastavino, who came to Asheville in 1900s to work on the Biltmore House. We went inside to admire the stunning decor. I took a photo & flapped around in my flip-flops whilst Jackie prayed. Our departure & that of a family of four was prematurely brought forward by the arrival of a Hobo who wanted to talk to everyone.

    Next stop was the Large Iron, a Flat Iron sculpture outside The Flat Iron Building. It wasn’t as impressive as it should have been & it appeared to get used as an ideal surface to stick flyers to. Some bloke was peeling some off when we pulled up.

    Asheville seemed a very nice town, possibly because it resembled a North European city complete with town squares & alfresco dining.

    We drove on past the Biltmore Estate & back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I drove to the Asheville Visitor Center on the BRP & handed over the reins to Jackie. Jackie then drove the next 79.6 miles to Line Cove Viaduct Information Center without much incident, just with impressive accuracy in finding all the potholes in the road!

    This leg of the route took us past Craggy Gardens, Mount Mitchell State Park, Little Switzerland & Linville Falls. Most of this journey was through Pisgah Forest & we were hemmed in by trees on both sides of the road. There were the occasional look-outs, but just one or two we stopped at, because we had ambitiously planned to drive a total of 262.4 miles on the BRP at a maximum speed limit of 45mph & often 35mph.

    At Line Cove Viaduct Info Center, I took over the driving & we passed Deep Gap, Benge Gap, Doughton Park, Cumberland Knob & crossed the State Line into Virginia before stopping at the Blue Ridge Music Center, which is run by the National Park Service. We arrived at 3.55pm & saw the last couple of minutes of a bluegrass band playing to an audience. They also had dancers jigging about. To the untrained ear, bluegrass music appears to be dominated by the banjo & it reminded us of that piece of music from Deliverance.

    After looking at their collection of instruments, we continued on north up the BRP, passing Mount Airy, then stopping at Fancy Gap for some petrol. We then continued, passing Groundhog Mountain, Meadows of Dan, Mabry Mill, Rocky Knob, Tuggles Gap, before turning off at Roanoke. I had tried to speed up a bit on the last leg, but we encountered numerous deer in the road & one wild turkey. We didn’t want anymore dents!

    We planned to stay in Tanglewood, just outside Roanoke, but we didn’t like the area & ended up driving another 20 kilometres to a little town called Daleville & checking into a (not so) Super 8. The receptionist informed us that we could get 10% off at the Mexican next door, which was a game changer for us.

    The Mexican, Rancho Viejo, appeared to be busy, so we had a couple of beers in our room then went to the Mexican at 8:40pm. The only customers in the restaurant were 6 blokes who suddenly rushed out leaving virtually their whole dinners. It turned out there were the local on duty Fire Department team, who had presumably responded to a call. They returned to their dinner just as we were leaving.

    The Mexican restaurant annoyed me because they were mopping everything down despite not closing until 10.00pm & they put us in a seat closest to the door, so I insisted on moving. This caused a bit of tension, but the food turned out to be ok & cheap. We got our discount, so I did leave a $5 tip.

    Song of the Day - Duelling Banjos by Blueridge Mountain Bluegrass Band.
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  • Day77

    Day 77 - Bear Faced Cheek!

    July 7, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We allowed ourselves a lie in after a long day yesterday. Jackie got out of bed at 9.30am & sat on the balcony, whilst I read my book in bed. At 10.00am I forced myself out of bed & joined Jackie on the balcony.

    I looked over the balcony & blow me, about 40 yards up the road saw a Black Bear just stood in the road. A man in the street below us, raced to his car. After a minute or two the bear ambled over to the next door chalet entrance & started rummaging in the bin outside the front door. Jackie grabbed my camera & I started taking photos only to later realise the SD card wasn’t in it....doh!

    I grabbed my phone & got some video footage. The bear eventually got a bag of rubbish & took it back across the road & ripped it apart. The bear then went back for more & returned with a carrier bag full of rubbish. Someone came out of the chalet shouting at him & he dropped the bag & jumped back into the foliage on the mountain opposite.

    Minutes later we was out again devouring the contents of the carrier bag, then we went back towards the chalet for more. He was walking between the cars & every so often he would rear up on his hind legs, with his front paws either on a vehicle, a tree or on the top of the bin. I prayed “Please don’t climb all over Doodle!!”

    Word was obviously getting round, because every so often someone would appear & try to shoo him away. A group of bikini clad girls who had been at our pool, appeared in the road. One stupid woman approached the bear to take a photo with a baby in her arms & a small child beside her.

    It was about 40 minutes later, after some great entertainment, that a plucky cleaner armed with a broom got within 10 feet of the bear to scare it away. This only temporarily worked & another cleaner took several attempts to scare it away by driving his car towards it & beeping his horn. There was then a mass exodus of guests from the chalet.

    Although it was a great experience to see a bear so close up, it should be said that our chalet had brought the problem on themselves by having non bear-proof bins outside the front door of each building. If they don’t resolve it soon, either someone will get hurt or worse still the bear will be killed!

    With all the excitement, I had taken my eye off the time & had just 15 minutes to shower, pack & check out. For us it is now quite a well rehearsed drill & we were out just minutes late.

    As I was packing the boot the irresponsible mother with baby was packing up her own car, saw my box of beers & said “Can I have a beer?” The bare faced cheek of it. Quite taken a back, I said “If you’re that desperate to beg for a beer, you’d better have one” I gave a can of beer & she said “Thank you” without an ounce of shame.

    Jackie & I drove south on 441 into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our 1st stop was the Sugarlands Visitor Center, where I picked up the my standard gloss National Park brochure. We then continued back on 441 & followed a procession of vehicles meandering through the Smokies at varying speeds, all below 35mph.

    The vegetation in the Smoky Mountains give off a vapour that creates a blue mist, giving it it’s name, but the vapour does also actually smell smoky. Not that pleasant for a non-smoker!

    Our intended destination was Clingman’s Dome just inside the State of North Carolina, which at 6,643ft, was at the ‘Top of the Smokies’. As we approached, we joined the back of a traffic jam, but luckily for us a woman called over & said that there were no spaces ahead & to park where we were on the other side of the road. It turned out to be a great bit of advice.

    A momentous event occurred, because I got out wearing just my flip-flops (on my feet) & we walked the half a mile + route & with an ascent of 100 metres to Clingman’s Dome. It was tough going in the sweltering heat & oxygen deprivation, but I left Jackie for dead. The down side to my athleticism was, that I was a hot sweaty mess at the summit. The Observation Tower at the top provides fantastic 360 degree views (on a good day) of The Smokies. After a few statutory selfies, we commenced the descent. I was better going up in flip-flops than down. My descent reduced me to my customary Max Wall impersonation, apparently!

    Another little highlight on this trek was that we actually crossed the Appalachian Trail at it’s highest point. The Appalachian Trail is over 2,180 miles long & is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. It extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine in the Eastern United States.

    Back at the car we continued south in a procession to the town of Cherokee, which to our surprise was an American Indian enclave. If you wanted to buy some Red Indian old tat or have your photo taken with a Red Indian or Buffalo, this was the place for you.

    We just filled up with petrol & drove back north a couple of miles & entered on to the Blue Ridge Parkway at it’s farthest south-western end. It was gloriously devoid of any crowds & we scooted along at 45mph to Waterrock Knob Visitor Center. Again I picked up a National Parks glossy brochure, but this time for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Now, Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long through North Carolina & Virginia. Our plan is to drive to Asheville, just 79 miles along it, then complete the remainder of the Blue Ridge Parkway over the next two days. It is a lovely scenic drive, through what can only be described as green fluffy mountains, that look like massive florets of broccoli 🥦!! On the down side, we have been attacked by ticks that cause all sorts of illness including Lyme Disease. Every time we get out of the car we have about 10 each crawling all over us.

    A couple of hours later with our roof going up & down like a whores drawers & passing literally hundreds of lookouts with fantastic & stupid names, we arrived in Asheville, North Carolina. Jackie had chosen ‘the Beaucatcher Motel’ & around 5.00pm we pulled up outside. It passed the test & we settled into our room with balcony. I sat on the balcony chair, but with a loud crack I jumped back up again. The chair had snapped in two places. I got one of our underused camping chairs out as a replacement.

    It had no bearing on our decision to stay at the Beaucatcher, but next door was our favourite, Panda Express. We hadn’t seen one for a couple of weeks, so we treated ourselves & had an early night. I might add that Asheville seemed a delightful little town still at 3,000 ft altitude. Hopefully we may find time to explore further.

    Song of the Day - The Bare Necessities by Phil Harris & Bruce Reitherman (The Jungle Book Original Soundtrack).
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